Architecture students world over spend at least five years in college and much of that time is spent engaging in creative processes. World over universities spend millions of dollars constructing and renovating spaces to be used by students for this type of work. However, if these spaces are not designed effectively in order to facilitate students’creative thinking then both parties inevitably suffer negative consequences. Students do experience greater levels of stress and anxiety and/or perform more poorly on creative tasks, and universities will have wasted money on constructing poorly performing spaces. Many previous studies exist on improving the Architecture school (Arch School) working environments; however, there is much less information on designing effective studio spaces with creative environments specifically for design students who often spend a significant portion of their time highly engaged in creative processes. Researchers in the field of creativity have developed a variety of environmental conditions that may facilitate, or at least not hinder, a general individual’s efforts during different stages in the creative process. Many of these conditions are related to psychological concepts, such as control and affect, which can be indirectly manipulated or addressed through specific targeted design principles and interventions for an Arch. School. It is important to remember that architecture design students can be a very diverse group with widely varied backgrounds, skills, interests, motivations, and cognitive styles. It is therefore necessary to consider their specific needs in order to design an environment in which they can function more effectively. This is what the writer calls the ‘Soul of an Arch. School’.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the Soul as the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body. This means that without a soul the body is lifeless. Arch students are typically trained to employ design-thinking tactics which involves looking at a problem from several viewpoints, redefining problems in response to various different factors, etc. Students are commonly given loosely-defined, open-ended problems with no clearly-defined solution, which often do not have just one right answer. These types of problems require much more divergent thinking skills and require creativity to come up with and select the best answer. Design problems are highly complex due to sophisticated relationships between various related systems. As a result of the dynamic interactions between these systems and the unique attributes of each site, no two design problems are exactly alike and no two design solutions will be exactly alike. As a result, the design process is largely an exercise in creative problem-solving where the students are expected to define the problem in their own terms and discover their own methods of solving the problem. This process in itself is a complex creative process and “complexity requires creativity” (Titchen & Horsfall, 2011, p. 35). It can therefore be argued that an Arch School without a creative environment which is its soul, is lifeless or dead and therefore cannot compete favorably to be one of the converted best Arch schools. The world and its issues are becoming increasingly complex, knowledge-intensive, and quick to change, resulting in a greater need for flexible, highly creative, and innovative-thinking problem solvers in academia and the workplace. (S. Brown, 2008; Stehr, 1994). Inadequately designed environments do have a significant detrimental effect on individuals’ creative thinking and work.
The primary goal of this paper is to discuss how the ambience of an Arch School affects the creative process of architecture students. The objectives include: to discuss how the various environments can be created; reveal what factors must be taken into consideration when creating a creative environment and finally to make recommendations to the Architectural fraternity and especially the educationists how best to get Arch students more creative using the ambience of their surroundings.
The writer used a model for the creative process adapted from Sawyer’s (2012) integrated framework that combines several of the leading models in the field. This particular model was selected because of its completeness, relevance, and applicability to the design process of a typical architecture design student’s methodology. Sawyer’s discusses eight stages of the Creative Process: First is the Identification of the problem which involves redefining ill-defined problems that lend themselves to a creative solution; Acquire problem-related information: involves gathering domain-specific knowledge from which to draw in later stages of the process; Gather broad range of potentially relevant information: involves gathering general background knowledge that may or may not initially appear directly relevant to the problem; Incubation: involves taking time off and letting the unconscious mind process and associate the gathered information in unpredictable ways; Generate a large variety of ideas: involves ideation through conscious attention to the given problem; Combine and develop ideas in unexpected ways: involves making connections and associations and often includes developing and/or combining existing concepts in novel ways—the beginning of the convergent mode; Select the best ideas and applying relevant criteria: involves choosing the best solution to the given problem from the previous stages of ideation and development and lastly Externalize the idea using materials and representations: involves the communication of ideas through creative production.
In order to ensure that the creative process happens and delivers the best results, the Arch Student must be given the right environment, atmosphere and ambience for creativity. A Creative environment can be defined as the space in which one does creative thinking or creative work. Creative thinking- any thought process which aims to produce novel concepts, solutions, or methods, or seeks to produce some outcome that differs from traditional solutions. Creative process- the creative process used here is based on Sawyer’s 8-step process including identifying the problem, acquiring problem-related information, gathering a broad range of potentially relevant information, incubation, generating a large variety of ideas, combining and developing ideas in unexpected ways, selecting the best ideas and applying relevant criteria, and externalizing the final idea(s) using materials and representations. Creative work- any work which engages the individual in their own creative process; most often with the goal of producing some individually novel or innovative outcome or product; (e.g. writing, designing, painting, drawing, etc.).
In any arch school efforts must be made to aid creativity in every way possible. In order to achieve the goal of aiding the creative process, potential obstacles and creativity roadblocks must be minimized or removed. Reducing or eliminating these undesirable conditions in individuals removes potential obstacles to creativity, thereby creating the conditions that may have the potential to foster optimal creative functioning. One of the most common obstacles to creativity is stress. Stress is a very general term that refers to any stimulus that causes physical, mental, or emotional tension in an individual. As usual a large part of college life is dedicated to studying and completing assignments. And depending upon their intensity and length, these activities require the student to sustain long periods of time engaged in directed attention. This is what the Ambience of an Arch school must seek to reduce by way of its environment. There are several ways this can be achieved by creating the right environments. To start with are restorative environments. Restorative environments seek to reduce stress, mental and emotional fatigue through eliciting outward focus onto the environment. It is generally thought that by negating stress and fatigue, these environments do restore the brain’s cognitive and attentional capacity, and reduce the likelihood of fatigue-related side effects such as burnout.
The Kaplans’ research in restorative environments within the field of environmental psychology delineates four attributes to a restorative experience: fascination (the ability to capture the user’s attention), being away (or feeling removed), extent (involving the user’s perception of being in a distinct place yet as part of a whole), and compatibility (refers to the synchronicity between the user’s goals and the environment) (Kaplan, 1995, p. 172). These properties most directly address the interaction between the environment and the human user; however, these attributes can also be usefully applied to the characterization of environments. Arch school must have such spaces that are fascinating while at the same time giving the students opportunity to freely interact. To achieve this in the design the architect must first create an interior that elicits the viewer’s fascination. This is one that is intriguing and captures the attention in a way that encourages a reflective mood. The predominant characteristics of restorative environments for a creative atmosphere include; strong presence of vegetation; Moderate to high spatial complexity/visually interesting; Visually detailed/complex; Views of natural environment; Use of natural materials, shapes, textures, and forms; Use of natural patterns and processes; Presence of natural light sources; Freedom, complexity, openness, coherence; Visual interest and opportunity for discovery. These must be used in such a combination in the design that finally delivers such an atmosphere in the Arch school that enhances creativity. Designs for the restorative settings are largely intended to elicit focus outward on the highly vegetated environment to induce non-directed attention by capturing the user’s fascination with stimulating natural elements including a varied palette of colors, textures, structures, and patterns. These include the utilization and integration of: environmental features, natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, light and space, place-based relationships, and evolved human relations to nature. A successful restorative environment emphasizes a connection with nature and one’s surroundings. Exposure to these types of environments could be the key to the long-term sustainability of creativity. In every creative endeavor a lot of contemplation goes in and must have an environment for the same.
Another form of environment is the Contemplative environment. This ultimately seeks to achieve similar end goals as restorative environments, such as the reduction of stress and fatigue, but through very different methods. These types of spaces seek to encourage inner focus for reflection, introspection, and contemplation (as opposed to the usual daily task-oriented thinking processes) by reducing environmental stimulation. Despite their similar end goals, contemplative environments differ from restorative environments in their design needs. They are most often designed according to “overload” or “arousal” theory that proposes that “human perceptual systems can become overloaded and stressed in places that have a great deal of complexity or intensity” (Krinke, 2005, p. 133). This complexity or intensity could refer to any stimulation sensation such as noise, movement, or visual cues. Thus, these settings are designed in a way to dampen outer stimulation or arousal in order to allow for a more complete focus on ones thoughts or purpose. Traditionally this has been accomplished through enclosure, reductive palettes, and sequencing of space (Krinke, 2005, p. 133). Krinke’s (2005) work best describes the how design for contemplative environments accomplishes these goals: Reduced palette of materials; Simplified forms; Reduced distraction (fascination) for inward focus; Low arousal for inward focus; Repetition in space, pattern, and pace; Silence or white noise to reduce auditory distractions; occasionally rhythmic noises are used to aid “trance-like” uses; Safe, often contained, environment that allows for complete immersion in one’s thoughts and segregation from a larger context or the outside world.
In addition, the layout and sequencing of the space also plays an important role in the development of a successful contemplative setting. Walking has historically been used as a method of shifting awareness and establishing a natural cognitive rhythm and physical tempo that can be modified by effective manipulation of the landscape (Krinke, 2005, pp. 109). That’s why straight pathways generally encourage one to move more quickly through the space, while meandering pathways promote a more leisurely pace (Krinke, 2005, pp. 108). Contemplative environments are meant to facilitate the slowing down from the often hectic pace of everyday life in order to allow the mind to wander or to focus more clearly on one’s thoughts; this can be further influenced as the placement of seating as a gestural form that implies how a space is to be used. The amount and placement of seating elements determines the choreography and sequencing of a space by simply defining the places where people may stop and rest. Seating and other stopping or slowing points in the interiors can be considered punctuation marks within the environment that will require extra attention to views, materials, form and pattern, sense of enclosure, sense of isolation, and feelings of security. Contemplative environments, mainly serve to foster inward focus to aid in the process of disengaging from the everyday mindset to move toward one that encourages reflection and meditation. This is often done by reducing outer stimulation by enclosing areas, using a minimalistic design vernacular, and proper sequencing of spaces. These strategies to dampen outer stimuli to increase the inner focus result in highly simplified material and form palettes, low intensity and highly congruent massings of vegetation, geometric or gently curving lines, physically inaccessible spaces, and spaces designed to control the circulation and experience throughout the environment (Krinke, 2005). A successful contemplative environment emphasizes a connection with one’s self and one’s innermost thoughts.
Another effective method that most schools ignore for inducing positive effects on creativity is to introduce the element of play in the environment. Here, play is both a physical and mental construct and refers to activities or behaviors which are “to some significant degree playful” (Dansky, 1999, p. 343). And playfulness is used to describe the quality of an element or activity that encourages actions or behaviors that are “intrinsically motivated and self-directed, that they are relatively free from externally imposed rules or constraints, and that the link between means and ends is loose and flexible. In addition to this relative sense of freedom from stimulus or task constraints, playful activity also tends to involve positive affective states such as pleasure, joy, excitement, or fun” (Dansky, 1999, p. 393). Vital to note that physical and psychological environmental conditions have a significant effect on the amount of playfulness an individual feels comfortable engaging in and expressing. Playful environments encourage playful behavior in its occupants in many ways. But the most important element of a playful space is to provide a permissive environment in which people feel free from judgment, paradigmatic conventions, rules, and societal norms (Wallach & Kogan, 1965; Runco, 2007; Dansky, 1999; T. Brown, 2008). Permissive environments are critical to the creative process, especially for tasks requiring divergent and original thinking (Runco, 2007; Dansky, 1999; T. Brown, 2008).
Typical design for work and study spaces generally isolates the individual to improve focus by eliminating distractions. For example, the cubicle gives a person their own space, a defined territory, and a small sense of control, but provides little in the ways of creative stimulation or connection to others. It is mainly there to insulate the worker from outside interference and distractions from their work. This isolation can be good for some, but detrimental to others given the wide spectrum of arch students, especially after long periods of exposure to such conditions (Kaplan, 1993). Light-heartedness or a joking/humorous spirit is another essential component of a successful architecture school soul design. It is important that the studio design gives the participant permission to take things less seriously. It creates a far less restrictive environment that promotes the freedom necessary for creative risk-taking. This concept is especially integral to the successful functioning of a playful creative environment. One of the most essential elements of a successful design is openness. There needs to be room for personal interpretation of the space and personalization for a diversity of users. One way to accomplish this is through creating spaces that are flexible. The environment must also lend itself to a multitude of affordances, or uses (Hendricks, 2001). Another way to accomplish flexibility and openness is through the utilization of un-programmed space. Spaces that people can manipulate and recreate for themselves according to their imaginations are essential (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).
The space must be designed to respond to the unpredictable nature of play. “The conceptual structures of play, and by extension its physical structures, are continuously generating and degenerating and peculiar to the particular and perishable rules, circumstances and impulses of the participants (Claydon, 2003). It is therefore necessary for the site to maintain some element of neutrality and flexible since, inherently, “play will always undermine the imposition of a rigid and canonical order” (Claydon, 2003, p. 29). Additionally, spaces that look “un-designed” do not give specific clues as to a prescribed behavior or set of rules to adhere to within the site, and are therefore helpful in creating an environment that encourages unstructured play (Hendricks, 2001). It abandons the airs of fussiness that can hinder explorative creativity. The arch school soul requires that the arch student is allowed to step away from the given problem and allow their minds to rest and/or focus on something else. This could include being physically removed from their typical environment, experiencing a change in their environment, or even just allowing the mind to wander. Distraction could be quite beneficial during this stage. Creative insights often occur “when individuals experience a state of calm, relaxed openness” (Runco, 2007, p. 348). This indicates the importance of access to contemplative and/or restorative environments, or any other environment that allows and facilitates relaxation during this stage in the creative process. Both restorative and contemplative environments relate to restoring and rejuvenating cognitive functioning which may directly influence creative functioning in both the short and longer-term time frame. Social and playful environments can also be beneficial during this time for access to potentially “inspiring” ideas as well as for the positive affect that has been associated with social interaction and playfulness.
The most influential beneficial conditions during this stage (Idea generation) are the presence of a permissive and/or playful environment with opportunities for sharing ideas and collaborating with others. Having a positive affect is also beneficial during this stage as it broadens attention to enhance wider cue utilization, resulting in making more remote associations and connections. Creative ideas often result from combining existing concepts in unexpected, novel ways. Positive affective states can be elicited and influenced by positive social interaction, playfulness, humor, and engaging in pleasurable activities among other methods. Having a supportive and/or permissive environment is critical at this stage to avoid premature restrictive editing of ideas. At Idea selection and Development stage is beginning of the convergent thinking mode where optimal condition preferences may begin to vary more between individuals. Some find that having a regular opportunity to share ideas is helpful. Social interaction fosters the “cross-fertilization” of ideas and may add to wider range of remote associations through accessing others’ knowledge and perspectives. This is also the point where access to spaces for solitude as well as distinct areas for social interaction begins to gain in importance as well as strongly defining the separation between the two. Having a neutral or slightly negative) affect has been found to be beneficial during convergent modes. Environmental conditions that aid in focused attention states begin to be become important during this stage, such as reduced environmental stimulation, less social engagement (for some), consistent environmental complexity, and reduced level of distraction.
Students require higher levels of concentration during the communication of the idea. As a result, distractions can be more detrimental to creative functioning during this time. Lower degrees of environmental stimulation are better in order to reduce arousal to allow for more focused attention to the task at hand and better performance. A neutral or slightly negative affect is beneficial, such as stress or anxiety, perhaps serving as a motivator for students to complete the project. However, too much stress or anxiety can quickly get out of hand and can negatively affect a person’s health, performance, and well-being. Therefore, access to restorative environments and social opportunities are necessary to reduce stress and improve affect if begins to become too negative (potentially leading to burnout and other more serious stress-related diseases and side-effects). The research revealed that for an architecture school to have a living soul that allows the greatest of student creativity to come out, it must possess the following; Permissive (playful) environments that provide an atmosphere of security and trust; Access to adequate resources (space, materials, etc.) and knowledge sources (disciplinary and non-disciplinary); Physical comfort (temperature, light levels, air quality, etc.); Opportunities for collaboration and chance encounters with others (especially with those in related domains and outside disciplines); Easy flow of information and communication with others; Clear distinctions between work and social areas; Control over one’s environment (including flexible/adaptable, multifunctional environments); Variety of spaces and facilities for differing preferences and needs; Consistent range of spatio-temporal complexity within discrete designed spaces to avoid distraction; Access to restorative and/or contemplative environments to periodically restore attention, focus, and cognitive functioning/capacity.
The research revealed that students overwhelmingly prefer to work in consecutive blocks of time, particularly during nighttime hours. Due to these longer periods of time, uncomfortable furniture was often cited as an influential distraction and hindrance to an individual’s creative process. Several respondents reported preferring environments where they have access to a place to lie down (i.e. sofa, bed). This preference may be a result of working long, late hours where time is at a premium and short naps are the primary sleep delivery method. Perhaps having quick access to a variety of resources and environments (such as kitchen, bedroom, living room) is one reason why the majority of respondents reported residential locations as ideal for their creative process. Students often spend a majority of their days and many long nights together in their studios. Because of this time spent with each other, the social relationships between students in a studio can be a complex mix between professional respect among colleagues, close friendships, and love/hate familial relationships. These complicated relationships result in a complicated social environment that may potentially have a significant effect on how an individual perceives, interacts, and behaves within their environment. One reason why current studio environments may not be functioning as desired could be because they do not take into account these complex factors into the designed environment as discussed in this paper.